buddhist,

One of the most difficult things for us to accept is that there is no realm where there’s only happiness and there’s no suffering. This doesn’t mean that we should despair. Suffering can be transformed. As soon as we open our mouth to say “suffering,” we know that the opposite of suffering is already there as well. Where there is suffering, there is happiness.
—  Thich Nhat Hanh

The Practice of Ngöndro

by His Holiness the Sakya Trizin

As human beings, we have many requirements in our lives. The most important among these is spiritual practice, the path that can lead us to attain peace and happiness in this life and in future lives.

The Buddha’s teachings say that all sentient beings, not only human beings, but all sentient beings, possess Buddha Nature. Everyone has the seed of Buddhahood, and if we meet with the right methods, we can accomplish the ultimate achievement. According to the Buddha’s teachings, we are all equal. I feel that the Buddha was the frst to give equal rights, not only to human beings, but to all sentient beings. Every sentient being has Buddha Nature, and so everyone has a chance to attain Buddhahood.

But at the moment, we do not realise this. We cannot see our Buddha Nature, the true nature of our mind, because our view is covered by the obscuration of deflements and the obscuration to knowledge. Because of this, because of our lack of wisdom and our great ignorance, instead of seeing the true nature of our mind, we cling to ourselves as a self, without any logical reason. Due to a long-time build-up of strong habitual tendencies, we cling to a self. And when we cling to a self, then naturally, there are others. And when we have self and others, there is attachment to one’s own side and anger towards others, and there is ignorance. These are the three main defilements. From these arise pride, jealousy, stinginess, and all the negative emotions, and when we perform deeds driven by the deflements, we get caught up in what we call samsara, or the cycle of existence.

As long as we are in samsara, we are not free from suffering. According to the teachings, samsara is divided into three realms: the three lower realms and the three higher realms. The three lower realms consist of the hell realm, the hungry ghost realm and the animal realm. We don’t have access to the hell realm and the hungry ghost realms, we cannot see them; but we can learn about their nature in the sutras and in the authentic commentaries. The animal realm, on the other hand, we can perceive directly, we can see for ourselves how animals suffer.

The higher realms are formed by the human realm, the demi-gods realm and the gods realm. In these there seems to be a mixture of happiness and suffering, but if we examine them closely, we can see that there is no real happiness in them. Only when we compare it with the great suffering of the lower realms does it appear like happiness; but in fact, even what we consider happiness is really another kind of suffering.

Every sentient being has Buddha Nature, and so everyone has a chance to attain Buddhahood.

We as human beings are afficted by the four major sufferings: the suffering of birth, the suffering of old age, the suffering of sickness and the suffering of death. And there are also many other kinds of suffering, such as the ones that we face in our everyday life.

As for the demi-god realm and the god realms, again we do not have access to them, but we can learn about them in the authentic teachings The demi-gods are naturally afficted by jealousy; they are superior to human beings, but they are not equal to the gods and they are always competing with them. Since their merit is not equal to that of the gods, they are always defeated, and this makes them experience great suffering.

The god realm has three different kinds of gods. One of these is the Karmadatu, the realm of desire. Its gods have beautiful bodies and live luxurious lives, in beautiful surroundings, but this doesn’t last forever. One day, suddenly, they realise that they are going to die; not only that they are going to die, but that since they spent their entire life indulging in enjoyment, never thinking about spirituality, they are most likely to fall into the lower realms. Since they have a certain amount of clairvoyance, they know where they are going to be reborn, and so they experience tremendous mental suffering.

And then there are the higher realm gods – the gods who reside in the Rupadatu, or the realm of form and those who reside in the Arupadatu, or the realm of the formless. In these realms, the gods do not experience visible suffering as we do, the physical and mental suffering that we experience, but the strength and power of the worldly meditation that brought them to such a high level, eventually becomes exhausted and they fall from the god realm into the realms of suffering.

And so in this way, it goes on and on, and we call it the circle of life, or the wheel of life. Just like a wheel keeps turning round and round, we are born here, we go through this life, and we begin our next life.

There is of course, the question of whether or not there is a next life. Because we don’t see it, we don’t have direct access to it, many people believe that there is no such thing as a next life. Some people say that they don’t know, and yet others say that there is indeed a next life. We have a body and a mind. Our body is visible, we can see it with our eyes we can touch it with our hands, and we can describe its colour, size and shape. We know where it came from, how it was formed, how it grows and how it is maintained. One day this body will be disposed of in one way or another. But mind is something very different. Mind we cannot see with our eyes, we cannot touch with our hands, we cannot describe its size, shape or colour. Mind is something invisible. Yet mind is what is most powerful. If there is no mind, then our physical body is like a dead body, it cannot function. It is the mind that does everything – all the good things, all the bad things, the virtuous deeds, the non-virtuous deeds. When we leave this body, our body will be disposed of in one way or another, but the mind cannot be washed, cannot be buried, cannot be cremated. And since it is already invisible, powerfully invisible, it cannot be made to disappear. And so, since it cannot disappear, it has to enter another life. There is a logical reason, logical proof that mind continues and when it continues, it enters another life. So we can establish and prove that there is a next life. And if we can prove that there is a next life, we can also establish that there was a previous life. And so it goes on and on.

Throughout the whole of samsara, everyone experiences suffering, in poor countries, developing countries and even developed countries. Of course, in poor countries there is a great deal of physical suffering, such as hunger and poverty. But also in developed countries, we can see that although we have great facilities, many possessions, we can never be satisfed. We always have something to complain about, many problems, many things. The whole of samsara is suffering.

Nobody wants suffering. Whether we are a believer or a non-believer, whatever religion we follow, whatever philosophy we follow, whatever ideology we follow, nobody wants suffering. And everybody longs for happiness. For the sake of happiness we develop, for the sake of happiness we practise, and for the sake of happiness we also do bad things. People who do bad things do them because they believe that these things will bring them a certain kind of happiness. Everything is done for the sake of happiness. But real happiness cannot be achieved merely by making efforts to achieve material progress. This is obvious.

Real happiness can only be achieved through spiritual practice. Religious practice changes our mind. There are many different religions in the world, and I myself personally believe that each of the major religions of the world has its own beauty and its own way to help human kind. We are all different, and so we need different religions, in the same way that we need different kinds of medicine. There is not one single medicine that can cure all diseases. But from my point of view as a Buddhist, the way to achieve real peace and happiness is through the practice of Dharma. In Sanskrit, the word Dharma actually has many different meanings, according to different contexts. But when we refer to the Holy Dharma, we speak of the teaching that changes our mind, shapes our mind. We can say that the Buddha is great because the teaching that he gave us changes our mind. If we practise it, we gain experience, it changes our mental attitude. It gives us the strength to face problems and it gives us comfort. And so this teaching is great and we can establish that the one who gives us such a great teaching, is himself great.

According to the Buddha’s teachings, the only way to overcome suffering is to practise the Dharma. To practise the Dharma, we need a foundation. Although every sentient being has Buddha Nature and, if the right methods are applied, every sentient being can become a Buddha, human beings are the ones with the best opportunity to do so. Because those in the lower realms are experiencing an unimaginable amount of suffering and ignorance, they have not the slightest chance to practise the Dharma. And those in the higher realms, although they seem to enjoy infnitely more advantageous life conditions than human beings, they lack the base to practise the Dharma that humans have. As far as a base to practise the Dharma is concerned, human life is the best of all. As human beings, we have the opportunity, the leisure and the freedom to practise the Dharma. And, at the same time, we experience suffering. This helps to lead us onto the spiritual path.

Real happiness can only be achieved through spiritual practice. Religious practice changes our mind.

And so, as a base to practise the Dharma, human life is the best. But, as it says in the teachings, human life is very diffcult to obtain. Actually, a human life that is endowed with all the prerequisites, a human life that is free from all the unfavourable conditions, and a human life that has all the favourable conditions, is very diffcult to obtain, from many points of view. First, from the number point of view. There are great numbers of human beings, the earth suffers from overpopulation and so it seems that there are so many human beings. But when we compare their numbers with those of other living beings, human beings are actually very few. It is easy to count how many people live in a country, but it is diffcult to count how many insects there are, even in a small place. Not only from the number point of view, but also from the example point of view and from the nature point of view, it is very diffcult to obtain a human life.

Not only is it very diffcult to obtain, but it is also very precious. More precious even than what we call the wish-fulflling jewel. It is said that there is a jewel, a special jewel that can fulfill all one’s wishes, like material needs, food, shelter, medicine, clothes and so on. But it cannot bestow liberation or enlightenment, or even a higher rebirth. Human life is more precious than the wish-fulfilling jewel, because through this human life we can accomplish higher rebirth, liberation, and even ultimate enlightenment. So therefore this human life is very, very precious. It is due to our own merit, virtuous deeds and prayers that this time we are born as a human being, free from all unfavourable conditions and endowed with all the favourable conditions. So when we have such an opportunity, if we miss this chance it is diffcult to know when we’ll have such an opportunity again. So we should not waste it and we must practise and try to make some progress toward liberation and enlightenment.

Liberation and enlightenment are not something that someone can give us as a gift, or pray for us and help us attain it. The Buddha said “I have shown you the path of liberation, but the liberation itself depends entirely on you.” The Buddha also said “You yourself are your own saviour. Nobody can save you. Only you can save yourself.” The way that the Buddha helps sentient beings is not by performing miracles, and not by actually helping us with his own hands, but it is by showing us the right direction. His teachings tell us that ‘this way is the right way, that way is the wrong way; if we go that way, we are going to suffer, but if we go this way, then we will attain liberation and will be free from all suffering’. And so the Buddha has shown us the path. But to reach our destination, we ourselves must actually make the journey. The Buddha cannot just take us there.

The Buddha is like a doctor. When we are sick, it is very important to have a good doctor, but after consulting the doctor, the main work has to come from the patient. The patient has to follow the doctor’s advice, take the right medicine, do the right things. Otherwise, even if we have the best doctor, if we don’t follow his advice, don’t take the right medicine, don’t do the right things, then we won’t be cured. Similarly, the Buddha is like a doctor, the Dharma is like medicine and we ourselves are like patients. And so it is us who have to help ourselves, follow the doctor’s advice and to the right things. Then one can be cured. This is why the Buddha said “Your are your own saviour.” And so, now that we have this great opportunity by being born as human beings, and now that we have all the necessary conditions to practise the Dharma, we shouldn’t lose this chance. And we must do it quickly, because we never know when we will have such an opportunity again.

The Buddha said that everything is impermanent. All compound things are impermanent. Compound things refer to things that are created through causes and conditions. The Buddha also said that the end of gathering is separation. For example, we are gathering here today only for a few hours and then we all go in our separate directions. But the same applies even in what we think of as something more permanent, for example, a family. We think that all family members belong together. But this is also only temporary, because no one lives forever. The older members leave frst, then the parents and then the children. Eventually everyone leaves this world and goes in different directions, to different families, different places. So the end of gathering is separation.

Also, the end of accumulation is exhaustion. No matter how much we accumulate wealth, possessions, power, none of these lasts forever. Eventually they will all become exhausted.

Likewise, the end of height is collapse. No matter how high we reach, we’ll eventually fall. We can read how in history great universal emperors conquered and owned entire continents, even several continents. Also in modern times, empires have owned almost the entire world. But these empires did not last forever. Eventually, they shrank and became very small. So the end of height is collapse.

And the end of birth is death. Anyone is born into this world is going to die eventually. There is no one who was born that did not die. There’s not the slightest doubt about this. Anyone who is born into this world has to die. We read about great masters of the past who were very holy, helped so many beings, devoted their entire lives to beneftting other sentient beings. But even they are today part of history, they are historical fgures. Also great statesmen, great emperors, great leaders, our own ancestors, many great people, good people – they are no longer here, they no longer exist. And if we look at all of us gathered here today, none of us will be here in a hundred years. So the end of birth is death. As to when death will come, no one can tell. There is complete uncertainty as to when death will strike us. There are divinations, astrological charts and prophecies that can tell us that we are going to live for so many years, these provide no absolute certainty. Just like the fame of a candle, even though it is still long and is burning well, it can be blown out by a gust of wind at any moment; similarly our life can end suddenly – anything can happen, an accident, a heart attack, anything can happen.

Internally also, our physical body is made of elements like heat, water and so on. When these elements are balanced, we are healthy and happy. But if the elements are imbalanced for example by eating the wrong foods, doing the wrong things, then disturbances arise, such as pain and sickness. So our lifespan is not defnite. Even if it is, obstacles can blow it out at any moment.

So therefore, it is very important to use this precious life in an effective way, so that it is not wasted, so that it is used in a purposeful way. A purposeful way means to make ourselves happy and also to help others. It means to make efforts on the spiritual path so that we can make headway toward liberation and enlightenment.

The Buddha said “I have shown you the path of liberation, but the liberation itself depends entirely on you.”

Many people are interested in the Dharma path, including the many people who follow the traditional way of going to the temple, doing prostrations, making offerings and circumambulations, reciting prayers, doing meditations, reciting mantras and so on. All this, of course, is very meritorious and can gain us great merit, but it is not really effective unless we make our own inner mental transformation. First, we have to think of what is the most important thing in our life. In worldly life, people want higher positions, wealth, fame, many friends, many supporters. But all this worldly prosperity has no real purpose. How long can one live? There are very few people who live up to a hundred. And so it is, at most, just a matter of a hundred years. And the day we leave this world, no matter how clever we are, how powerful we are, how rich we are, how many friends and supporters we have, none of this can help. We have to leave by ourselves, alone. No one can share our suffering, nobody can help us. The only thing that can help us at that moment is the spiritual practice that we have done, the virtuous deeds that we have performed. And so it is very important to practise right now, because we never know whether we’ll ever have such a chance to practise in the future. Many people think: “I’m young and so right now I’m just going to enjoy life and when I get older, then I’ll enter the spiritual path.” But many young people die, even before old people do. Many perfectly healthy people die before sick people do. We just can’t tell how long we’ll live, and so it is very important to follow the spiritual path and practise very diligently, straight away.

Although we do many practices, I feel that we’re not really thinking about what we’re doing. We just go through the motions – especially those who are following the traditional Dharma path. We go to the temple and pray, and so on. But we are not really thinking about why we are practising the Dharma, what is the benefit of practising the Dharma. If we don’t practise the Dharma, then what happens? What are the consequences that we face? So first of all, I think that it is very important to think about what is the most important thing in our life, about how we can obtain real peace and happiness? And then we realise that the only way to achieve real peace and happiness is to practise the Dharma. And how can we practise the Dharma? Dharma is not just about praying, going to the temple, making offerings and doing prostrations and circumambulations. The main Dharma means that we need to transform our mind. Reciting prayers and mantras and doing circumambulations are very virtuous deeds, which are very meritorious, but if our mind remains the same, these alone will not enable us to attain liberation or enlightenment. We need to transform our mind.

And to transform our mind, we need to do the preliminary practices like reflecting on the suffering of samsara, the diffculty of obtaining the precious human birth, impermanence, and cause and effect. And then we think “Why are we here? Why do we have to go through this life and all its suffering? Why do we have to suffer? Who’s doing all this to us? Why do we go through so many different experiences?” The Buddha said that everything is created by our own karma. There is no creator who creates our happiness and our suffering. These are a result of our own deeds. So we cannot blame anyone. Those who believe in a creator can blame him – “Why are you doing this to me?” Or deities – if we believe that the deities create our happiness and suffering, We worship the deities, we pray to them, and yet they don’t help us when we’re in a crisis. In a small village in South India, there was a school, the village school. It was very poor and its roof was made of grass. One day there was a big fre and the grass roof burned so fast that many of the small children couldn’t escape on time and died. Their parents were of course in great pain. They were all very religious people, and performed pujas every day. They had statues of the deities in their homes, and they made offerings to them and recited prayers. Their main prayers were for the safety of their children and so every day they prayed for them. But many of these children died in the fire. The parents became so angry at their gods that they threw all the statues into a ditch. This is understandable behaviour from someone who believes that the deities create all our suffering and happiness. But in the Buddhist tradition, we cannot blame the deities. The deities do help us in certain ways, but mainly our destiny depends on ourselves. It is due to our own negative deeds that we face suffering.

It is also due to our own good deeds that today we enjoy life, so we can credit ourselves for this. In this way, Buddhism teaches the law of Karma, the law of cause and effect. All the good things in our life, our longevity, our good health, our prosperity, the fulfllment of our wishes – all these are due to our good deeds, the good deeds that we have performed in the past. And all the bad thing that we experience, a short life, sickness, poverty, failures, the inability to fulfll our wishes, are also due to the non-virtuous deeds that we have performed in the past. So we cannot blame anybody. We have to blame ourselves. This is the law of Karma.

The Buddha said that everything is impermanent. All compound things are impermanent.

If we want to practise Dharma seriously, it is very important to think about this. Then we realise how important it is to practise in earnest and not waste any time. And also how important it is to practise the Dharma effectively. There are millions upon millions of persons who are not interested in any spiritual path at all. There are also many beings who are interested in the spiritual path, and who in appearance are practising the Dharma, but in reality they are not practising the real Dharma. Even though we wear robes, we recite prayers and mantras, we go to the temple, we meditate and so on, our mind is still the worldly mind We have all the worldly attachments and think worldly thoughts. And so even our practice is in a way linked with worldly gains. Although in appearance it is spiritual practice, in reality it becomes just another worldly activity. So therefore, to make it a real spiritual path, even if we cannot practise the whole time, whatever amount of time that we can use, even if it is only a few hours, at that moment we should not think of worldly gains, we should try to make it true Dharma, a true path that will lead us to liberation and enlightenment. It says in ‘Parting From the Four Attachments’ that if we have attachment to this life, we are not a religious person. This is very important, because even though we practise, our practice is not effective. It is not done in the right way and it becomes a worldly activity.

And so the foundation or preliminary practice, what we call Ngöndro in Tibetan, is very, very important because through this Ngöndro practice, we make our path, our religious practice, a real Dharma, one that will lead to liberation and enlightenment. It is very important. Many people nowadays think that Ngöndro practice is just about counting refuges, reciting mantras, making mandala offerings and so on, to reach a certain number. If we reach this number, then we expect something to happen. But unless and until it changes our mind, then no matter how many mantras we recite, no matter how many mandala offerings we make, it does not make much of a difference. As long as it does change your mind, then even reciting a few mantras makes a difference. And so, first of all, we need to refect on things like the suffering of samsara, the difficulty of obtaining the precious human life, impermanence, and the law of Karma. These are very, very important. And this is not something that we count or just recite, it is something that we need to think about in our daily life, even while we’re walking, when we’re in the midst of people, when we’re involved in a busy life. We can think of this, we can think of samsara, we can think of suffering, we can think of impermanence. We don’t need to be in a temple or in our own shrine room to think about this; we can do so while we’re working, while we’re travelling, we can think about this and it will lead our mind to the spiritual path.

This is what the common preliminary practice really means, in simple terms, not in scholarly ones. Common, in the sense that it belongs to both sutrayana and mantrayana. The Ngöndro itself is an uncommon preliminary practice. Uncommon, because it belongs to the mantrayana or vajrayana way of practising.

Its frst practice, refuge, has many different levels. There is worldly refuge and beyond worldly refuge. Worldly refuge itself has two parts: object worldly refuge and mind worldly refuge. Object worldly refuge means that when we face crises in our life, when we fnd ourselves in desperate situations, we seek refuge in spirits, local deities, trees, mountains, rocks, etc. This is worldly object refuge. Worldly mind refuge means that even if we take refuge in the right objects like the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, our purpose is worldly, for example to have a long life, good health, prosperity, success, the fulfillment of our wishes. Worldly refuge is not the right refuge.

And then there is the beyond worldly refuge, which also has two parts: Hinayana and Mahayana. Within Hinayana, are the Sravakas and Pratiekabuddhas. Each one of these refuges has four different parts: cause, object, duration and purpose. In the worldly refuge, the cause is mainly fear. When we face crisis in life, we feel fear and this drives us to take refuge; the object is, as we already said, the worldly deities; the duration is just long enough to overcome our temporary problems and suffering; and the purpose is just for one’s own sake. In Hinayana, the object for Sravakas is not to become Buddhas, but Arhats, and they take refuge in the Sangha. For Pratiekabuddhas, the objective is not to become fully enlightened Buddhas, but just Pratiekabuddhas, and their main object of refuge is the Dharma.

In Mahayana refuge, the causes for taking refuge are three – fear, faith and compassion, but the main one is compassion. In Mahayana, every practice that we do is not for our own sake, but rather for the sake of all sentient beings. To have this goal, we need to have compassion. If we don’t have compassion, how can we have the mind to help sentient beings? So the main cause is compassion. As for the object, although in all Buddhist traditions, the object of refuge is the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, in Mahayana the explanation of these is different. In Mahayana, when we say the Buddha, we refer to one who possesses the three kayas, the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya. The Dharmakaya means the body of reality, and it is referred to as having double purity. Double purity means the natural purity that we all have, the true nature of our mind, which is pure, never stained with the obscurations. If our true nature of the mind were stained with the obscurations, then one could never become free from the obscurations. But we can become free of them because the obscurations are only temporary and they are not within the nature of the mind. So we all possess natural purity. However, we cannot see it because at the moment we have temporary obscurations that block us from seeing our natural purity. But the Buddhas have double purity because of their accumulation of merit and wisdom, which clears all the obscurations, including their propensities. Dharmakaya is not something that we gain from outside. It is something that we already have, but which we don’t see because of our obscurations. Once our obscurations are cleared, then the Dharmakaya is revealed and we can see it. And so it is called the double purity.

Sambhogakaya means the body of enjoyment. When we clear all the obscurations, then we gain all the great qualities. At the moment, we don’t have these qualities, but when we clear the obscurations, our ordinary physical body becomes the Buddha’s body with the thirty-two signs and eighty qualities, and our ordinary voice becomes the Melody of Brahma with the sixty branches, and our ordinary mind becomes omniscient wisdom.

Nirmanakaya means the body of emanation. Dharmakaya is invisible – it is beyond, it is ultimate reality, and so it is only visible to Buddhas. The Sambhogakaya is only visible to the highest level of the Buddha’s followers like the Bodhisattvas, but not to ordinary beings. But the Nirmanakaya body of emanation is revealed – wherever, whenever, in whatever form is required – human form, animal form, all kinds of different forms – in order to help beings. So the Buddha with the three kayas is only described in the Mahayana.

To transform our mind, we need to do the preliminary practices like reflecting on the suffering of samsara, the difficulty of obtaining the precious human birth, impermanence, and cause and effect.

The word Dharma has two parts. The teachings and the realisations. The realisations that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have gained by eliminating all the obscurations and attaining all the realisations – the realisations of the truth of cessation and the truth of path. This also belongs to Mahayana.

And then Sangha actually means ‘community’. In this case, it is the holy community, the true Sangha, the bodhisattvas who have reached the irreversible state.

So in this way, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha constitute the object, the special Mahayana refuge.

As for the duration, since our goal is to accomplish ultimate enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, we take refuge until enlightenment is reached. If we need to go to an unknown place, the first thing we need is a guide who can show us the path. The Buddha is the guide. So we need to rely on the guide until we reach our destination. Since our destination is to accomplish ultimate enlightenment, we take refuge in the Buddha until enlightenment is reached. And then, to reach our destination, we actually have to travel on the path, by foot, by car, by any means of transport. And so we take refuge in the Dharma as our actual path. And when we undertake such a long and diffcult journey, rather than travelling alone, it is very helpful to have companions, trusted companions. So we take refuge in the Sangha as our companions.

As for the purpose, in the Mahayana the purpose is not for one’s own sake but for the sake of all sentient beings. All sentient beings are our mother and our very dear ones. We believe in rebirth, according to which we keep changing our lives, we have been born in different families, different forms, different lives, over and over again. So everybody, every sentient being has actually become our parents and our very dear friends. But because of the change in life, we don’t recognise each other and we see some as friends, some as enemies, some as indifferent. But in reality, everyone is the same, everyone has been our mother. Therefore, if we ignore all other mother sentient beings and seek liberation just for ourselves, this is not right. Even on the worldly level, if we’re a goodhearted person and our closest family members, our dearest ones, our friends or relatives, are in great suffering, and we are in a safe and happy place, we don’t feel happy. Even if we can’t help them, at least we try to do something to share their miseries. Similarly, all sentient beings are our mother, all sentient beings are our very dear ones, and so ignoring them and seeking liberation or enlightenment for ourselves alone is not right. We seek enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. And so the main purpose of taking refuge is not for one’s own beneft, for one’s own wellbeing, but rather for the wellbeing of all sentient beings. This is our purpose.

This is what makes the Mahayana refuge special – the cause, the object, the duration and the purpose. Taking refuge is the very first thing that we need to do in the preliminary practice. Nowadays, many of us follow the Vajrayana path, and so we need to take the Vajrayana refuge. We can only take the Vajrarayana refuge when we have received a major empowerment. And then we need to generate the enlightenment mind which, as we mentioned, is the purpose of the refuge – to help sentient beings.

In Mahayana, every practice that we do is not for our own sake, but rather for the sake of all sentient beings. To have this goal, we need to have compassion.

And then, we have to enter the spiritual path towards enlightenment. We have many obscurations, we have accumulated many negative deeds over our lifetimes, and these need to be purified. We do this through the practice of Vajrasattva meditation, the recitation of the one hundred-syllable mantra. At the same time, we need to accumulate merit. There are many ways to accumulate merit, but the most effective way is to make mandala offerings. All these are Vajrayana practices and can only be done if one has received a major empowerment. And then, in order to receive blessings quickly, we practise Guru Yoga. In order to attain enlightenment, we need to realise the nature of the mind. We cannot realise the nature of the mind merely through explanations, examples or logical reasons. The nature of the mind can only be realised through the accumulation of merit and through receiving the blessings of the Guru. So therefore, Guru Yoga is very important.

And so in this way, we should place great importance on the preliminary practices.